Boating season is here – Be safe

As we head into the holiday weekend, LT Anastacia Thorsson contributes the following post on safe boating. Have a great Memorial Day!

A Coast Guard Auxiliary member provides a free Vessel Safety Check. Click the image to learn more. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg)

Post written by LT Anastacia Thorsson

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start of the recreational boating season. So before you head out on your boat for the holiday weekend, or at all as we head into the summer, make sure that you have taken the proper precautions.

While it is always a blast to get out on the water, people have to remember that it is still a dangerous environment even on those bright sunny days when it seems like your only care in the world should be where to drop anchor to go swimming. Take a deep breath, hold on to that excitement and think, am I being safe?

In 2008, the Coast Guard counted 4,789 accidents that involved 709 deaths, 3,331 injuries and approximately $54 million dollars of damage to property resulting from recreational boating accidents. Many of those accidents occurred on boats smaller than 21 feet.

Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 17% of boating-related deaths. Careless or reckless operation was listed as the largest cause of all boating accidents. Both of these factors are easily avoidable, don’t drink and boat, and make sure that you are vigilant in the operation of your craft. Take classes to make sure you know how to be safe, and when you are on the water remember to operate your boat responsibly. Responsible operation includes maintaining a safe speed, proper distance from other boaters and following navigational rules.

When it comes to drinking and boating, while you might want to throw back a few and enjoy the salt spray, think about how drinking can affect your driving in a car. Now, at the tilting and constant motion of a boat, and the fact that you don’t have brakes. Not only that, even if you are still anchored while intoxicated, you are hindering your ability to help yourself should you fall over board. It isn’t getting in trouble with the law for boating under the influence that should scare you, it is the fact that you are putting your life at serious risk and the lives of others.

Life jackets save lives. Over two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, 90% were not wearing a life jacket. In 2008, 63% of all child fatalities resulted from drowning. You should make sure that you and your children wear a life jacket even for short trips on the boat. Make sure that life jackets fit correctly. Children should be wearing child sized life jackets.

During boating season, the Coast Guard increases it’s number of recreational vessel safety boardings. This is not to make things difficult for the mariner out on the water, or to put a damper on anyone’s fun. First and foremost, all Coasties are rescuers and by looking out for boating safety, we hope to save lives through education and not search and rescue cases.

No matter how experienced a mariner is, the sea is a dangerous environment. Plan ahead to keep yourself and others safe by filing a float plan, having a 406 mHz Electronic Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB)on your vessel, having enough life jackets aboard for all passengers, don’t drink and boat, and be responsible in the operation of your vessel.

It is our mission and our pride to be that rescuer to those in distress, but help us help you by being safe.

Here are some great resources for boaters:
Boating Safety tips
How to register an EPIRB or PLB
Coast Guard Auxiliary safe boating classes
Coast Guard Auxiliary free vessel safety exams
How to file a Float Plan

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